Me. Many years ago. A high school corridor.
Brunette and blonde.
Ready to write.
“We’re doing a story for the school paper,” the brunette tells me. “Can we ask you a question?”
“Cool! What famous person do you wish you could trade places with?”
The answer comes quickly. “Isadora Duncan,” I say.
A flash of uncertainty crosses their faces, so I elaborate.
“You know, the famous dancer? She died a long time ago.”
“Oh, that’s a good answer.”
“Yes,” I agree.
Because Isadora was one heck of a woman. And did I ever want to be like her.
Well, not the part about her family tragedies. Or the public drunkenness. And especially not the freak accident that caused her death, when her long, flowing scarf got caught in the wheel of her car.
But the rest of it? You bet.
The monumental creativity!
My 17-year-old self found it oh-so-very enchanting.
Me. About ten years ago. Reading a book.
Nope. I didn’t become Isadora. But I did eventually find my way to Robert Johnson, and he helped me figure out my fascination with her.
In Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, Johnson illuminates the shadow, that repository of unacceptable personal characteristics (like greed and hate) that we find every which way to deny about ourselves. And he makes the case for why we need to own these orphaned parts: because the alternative–unconsciously projecting the dark stuff thither and yon–does not make for a whole and happy life.
But wait. There’s more. As it turns out, the shadow houses some really good qualities, and in Johnson’s words:
It is possible to project from the shadow the very best of oneself onto another person or situation. Our hero-worshiping capacity is pure shadow; in this case, our finest qualities are refused and laid on another. It is hard to understand, but we often refuse to bear our noble traits and instead find a shadow substitute for them.
I’d been unconsciously projecting some of the best of me onto her. In fact, she’d been holding it for a long time. And maybe it was time to start taking it back.
So began the externalization of my inner Isadora. It was an invitation to reclaim my artistry: to create a business, a garden, a home. To play with color and fabric, return to performing, begin writing, and bring expressive arts into my work with clients.
And I mustn’t forget the scarves. Most with a story all their own. They would become the touchstones, a way to remember that taking back my projections is a life-long journey.
You and me today. Having this conversation.
Now, I wear a scarf almost every day. A tip of my hat to Isadora. Or better yet, a flip of my fringe.
In the ensuing years, I’ve learned a lot about shadow and hero-worship. And I’ve gotten pretty good at helping my clients explore and unearth their own versions of Isadora.
Certainly, most people mightily resist. Yet, when they’re in a kind and supportive relationship with someone who cares enough about them to acknowledge and accept all of their shadow–both light and dark–the process becomes a little easier.
But nothing’s ever simple, right? So here’s the most important lesson I’ve learned about taking back our projections: what can be classified as hero-worship or idolizing or pure adoration during our younger days often veers uncomfortably toward envy and jealousy as we mature.
Envy? Jealousy? Yes, we got ’em. And they often house the adult version of Wannabe Syndrome. A strange twist on hero-worship. And you know what? That’s OK.
Gasp! Did I just say it’s OK to feel jealousy and envy? Isn’t envy one of the seven deadly sins or something?
I don’t know too much about that. But I will tell you that when clients begin to unpack these emotions that they suppose represent only the dark and flawed parts of themselves, I always want to help them look underneath to see what light might be shining there. To sift through what’s about them and what’s not about them.
Because let’s face it, life is complicated. People do grow weary. Sometimes bitter. We compare ourselves to others and project our desires onto them. And as a result, envy and jealousy may emerge.
Now, I’m not recommending a steady diet of envy or jealousy. I’m sure you understand instead that I’m talking about acceptance. Seeing underneath. Working through.
And holding these parts of ourselves as gently as we would a tiny kitten or a budding rose.
I’d love to hear your take on this.
Care to share an experience with hero-worship? Admiration? Envy? Jealousy?
What bright qualities have you or do you project onto other people or situations?